As I reflect back on 2016, there were some exciting times, stressful times, interesting times, difficult times, and yes, even some sad times. However, January is a time that reminds me about my dad (who went to heaven on the first Monday of January in 2015). Like all of us who have lost a loved one, there are certain times, places, or moments that remind us of them.
I am thankful that God gave me many good years with dad. And as I reflect upon him, I remember that he was a quiet man whose actions spoke louder than words. He enjoyed the simple things in life; family, friends, hard work, hunting, fishing, a cold beer, barbeque, Dallas Cowboys, and Texas Rangers. My love for the outdoors came from dad. I can remember sitting in his green Chevy pickup truck barreling down highway 80 towards his favorite fishing hole in Grand Saline. We might drive for hours without talking, but somehow we were connecting. I realize now, having my own children, that those fishing trips were expressions of his love. A father must love a child to take him/her fishing, because so much time is spent baiting hooks, untangling lines, and patiently enduring a kid who wants to eat, drink, skip rocks, ask questions, and become sidetracked by mother-nature. Yet, those outings weren't just about catching fish. Dad, perhaps unknowingly, was molding my character, and together we were building a relationship. I can't recall my dad telling me to be patient or kind, but I learned from him on those trips what it was like to be patient and kind. I can’t recall dad telling me what is right and wrong, but I learned on those trips by my dad’s action what is right and wrong. I can’t recall dad telling me about nature, but I learned on those trips to love nature. I can’t recall hearing long speeches concerning philosophies or politics of the world, but I do recall learning to be still and discovering life through watching and listening. And I can’t recall dad saying I love you, but I learned on those trips what it was like to be loved by your father.
As I go back into my memory, I do remember one piece of advice that my dad shared with me. It was wisdom that was lived out long before he spoke it. He said, "Be good to people and they will be good to you." It wasn't a hard principle for me to understand, because he modeled it. His philosophy of life has become nearly obsolete with the "me" generation of today, but that philosophy taught a little boy what it would be like to become a man someday. Dad was not a religious man (he came to know the Lord in his 80s), but what he said from time and time was very spiritual. I don't know if he was imparting to me the golden rule (do unto other as you would want them to do unto you) or quoting scripture (just as you want men to treat you, treat them in the same way-Luke 6:31), but that one simple truth that he spoke and lived by had an amazing impact on my life. Could it have been this truth that after becoming a Christian, guided me into the ministry? I don't know. But I do know the love and affection a little boy feels when he is sitting beside his dad who lives a consistent life of doing good to others. It's a love that makes a boy into a man.
Thus, I learned from my dad that character is more than talent. Talent is, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us, but we must build it piece by piece, thought by thought, choice by choice, day by day. Character is the inside of a person. It's what a person does when nobody is looking, when the boss is away, when the pressure is on during the test, when the car runs out of gas, when the child pushes you to your limit, when someone falsely accuses you, or when you fill out your IRS form. Character is not what people say about you or what you achieve, but it's who you are on the inside. Jesus said, "The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil"(Matt 12:35). Character is thinking the right thoughts; having the right motives; making the right choices; and doing the right thing. Dad had a way of teaching me character without words, by his deeds. Thanks dad, for the simple life, simple words, and invaluable life lessons.
May I encourage you to pause today and reflect upon your loved ones, and thank God that He has placed them in your life and the invaluable lessons they taught you.
Pastor Mike Kotrla